Call it karma or whatever you believe in, but I think it’s more than mere coincidence that Mother’s Day, May 13th is the same week as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.http://mentalhealthamerica.net. The two are closely intertwined.
Mental health professionals have known for years that if a mother is depressed, her kids have a greater chance of being depressed. A depressed mother, for example, may not be able to set limits and discipline in teens, thus leaving the teen vulnerable to poor choices and risky behaviors.
However, if that mother’s depression lifts, according to studies completed by the National Institute of Mental Health, her children tend to show overall improvement in psychological and social functioning both at home and at school.
GLBT Teens Particularly Vulnerable
The poor choices that depressed teens can make such as suicide and substance abuse can be counteracted by family acceptance behaviors. Caitlin Ryan, Ph.D., founder of the ongoing Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State,http://familyproject.sfsu.edu found that LGBT children whose mothers and fathers showed them unconditional love had significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support. If rejected, these adolescents were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
“Hey, What About Me?”
Dr. Ryan recommends that parents need to remain calm when teens come out to them and keep the communication open. This is not always easy to do when confronted with news that may shake your beliefs or prompt you to have unsettling feelings because your child has just altered the family landscape.
A Psychiatrist Suggests Coping Skills
How can a mother or father be loving and parent effectively when they may be hurting inside? To get some answers to this dilemma, I asked Jonathan Tobkes, M.D., a Manhattan psychiatrist, for solutions:
1. Seek individual therapy to help understand your own expectations and prejudices. Family therapy can help as well to open a dialogue within the family.
2. Talk with a family member or trusted, non-judgmental friend who has “been there” so their advice and support are based on experience.
3. Look for a Support Group such as PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays) near your community. No one expects you to have all the answers.
4. Read as much as you can on the topic of parenting a GLBT child. The literature you seek, whether on-line or in print, should focus on debunking the stereotypes that our society persists.
So, this Mother’s Day, remember that your child is a blessing. Give your child a hug, and love him just the way he is. He needs unconditional love and you need to feel you’re a good parent, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.